I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In the House (2016, dir. Osgood Perkins)
Horror is a genre that has grown nearer and dearer to my heart since I was a child watching the edited for television version of The Shining and reading kiddie anthologies from the public library. With time, I feel my taste has been refined, initially being genuinely scared of schlock like The House on Haunted Hill 1999 remake and now finding most mainstream jump scare driving horror sleep inducing. I’ve settled into a love of creeping horror, slow burning crawls toward the inevitable oblivion at the hands of what waits in the shadows. What truly feels like horror to me is that existential dread, the realization that you are powerless against horrors that have reached a level of forces of nature. A fated doomed is one of the worst horrors an individual could come across, learning that no matter what course of actions you took you were going to come head to head with the destruction of your life.
Lily has taken a job as the hospice nurse to the ailing Iris Blum, the author of mass market horror fiction. The house Ms. Blum inhabits has a dark history, the original owner and his wife vanished just after they were wed. From the outset of the story, Lily lets us know she will die within a year of working for Ms. Blum. Lily’s narration is intentionally anachronistic and flows in and out of readings of Blum’s The Lady in the Walls novel. This fluidity of time and the sense that we are not in a fixed location in time is essential to understand what is/has happened to Lily.
I Am The Pretty Thing is the second of director Perkins’ films I’ve seen in the last couple weeks. I previously reviewed The Blackcoat’s Daughter and would say I enjoyed it more than Pretty Thing. However, Pretty Thing is one of the most richly literary horror films I’ve ever seen. I recalled The Turn of the Screw as I watched it and the adaptation, The Innocents starring Deborah Kerr as a governess in very similar shows as Lily. There is not an interest in jump scares as there is in ratcheting up tension or exploring a more ethereal horror.
Perkins, son of the late actor Anthony Perkins, is very aware of the tropes at work in this film and his father’s iconic picture Psycho. However, there is an elegance to the horror that Psycho pushed to the side for shock value. Nothing ever feels like a shock in Pretty Thing, more a dreadfully expected outcome. There is a coldness to the proceedings; Perkins takes a very neutral observational tone. Lily’s narration, while intimate, is absent the sense of emotion, which makes sense as she is reflecting back from death at the circumstances at the end of her death. The way the threads of Lily, Ms. Blum, and the mysterious ghost that haunts the house are brought together for the climax is incredibly clever and is an example of how beautiful horror can be at moments.
I Am the Pretty Thing demands the patience of the viewer, so if you are a fan of fast-paced, instant gratification horror, then I don’t think you would find much to enjoy here. However, I would encourage anyone who seeks out horror as a truly emotional disturbing experience to sit down and view this film as soon as possible. Much like The Blackcoat’s Daughter, the film itself is a haunting, leaving questions open but answers implied, enough to force the viewer to live with for some time after.